Spielberg and DreamWorks Energize the Magic Machine Anew
By MICHAEL CIEPLY and BROOKS BARNES
UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. — In the perfect little town of Paradise, Ohio, a pretty-faced new kid has a crush on the sweet blonde who is showing him around. By the way, the kid is also a space alien, on the run from some other aliens who are anything but pretty.
After two years in the throes of a financial restructuring, Steven Spielberg and his DreamWorks Studios are back with some typically Spielbergian stuff. And they are starting the next round with the sort of fanciful, scary, sometimes heartwarming movies they know best — and their new distribution ally, Walt Disney Studios, needs most.
The inaugural film from the revamped DreamWorks, “I Am Number Four,” with those hormonal teenagers and nasty aliens — and a heavy “Twilight” element — is set for release on Disney’s Touchstone banner on Feb. 18. Mr. Spielberg is not expected to take a credit on the film, remaining in his executive role. But neither is he taking chances with the first in a string of movies that will inevitably have investors, business allies and the audience watching for his trademark screen magic.
“There’s a lot of him in there,” said Marti Noxon, who is among the writers of “I Am Number Four,” and is perhaps best known for her work on the television series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” More than once, said Ms. Noxon, she found herself laboring with Mr. Spielberg in a conference room in his adobe-style complex on the Universal Studios lot here in an effort to get the teenagers and aliens just right.
DreamWorks — now owned by Mr. Spielberg and Stacey Snider, with financial backing from Reliance Big Entertainment of India and distribution via Disney — carefully picked the release date. It is the kind of winter slot that has been good to popcorn fare like “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” which generated over $183 million at the global box office last year, and “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief,” which took in $226.4 million in February.
The director of “I Am Number Four,” D. J. Caruso, gave DreamWorks a pair of PG-13 hits, “Disturbia” and “Eagle Eye,” during its unhappy tenure as a partner of Paramount Pictures. The producer is Michael Bay, who mixed teenagers and space creatures for DreamWorks and Paramount in the blockbuster “Transformers” series. In an e-mail, Mr. Bay said he brought the project to Mr. Spielberg, whom he described as a “mentor and friend.”